A Brief History of the Folies-Bergère
"The Folies-Bergères [sic] , rue Richter 32, near the Boulevard Montmartre, a very popular resort... visitors take seats where thy please, or promenade in the galleries, while musical, dramatic and conjuring performances are given on the stage. Admission 2Fr"
Baedeker, Paris and Its Environs, 1878
Quoted by T. J. Clark
The Folies-Bergère was the first music-hall to be opened in Paris. It was conceived in conscious imitation of the Alhambra in London, a music hall known and much-loved for broad comedy, opera, ballet and circus.
The Folies-Bergère was supposed to be the Folies Trevise, because it was on the corner of the rue Richter and the rue Trevise. The Duc de Trevise would not allow his name to be brought into such potential ill-repute. The rue Bergère, a road named after a master dyer, was a block or so away. 'Folies' came from the Latin, foliae, meaning 'leaves' but transmogrified into 'field' and thence to a place for open-air entertainment.
The Folies-Bergère opened in May 1869, not far from the heart of the post-Haussmann cultural centre of Paris, south of Montmartre, a little east of the boulevard des Italiens (known simply as The Boulevard). Entry cost 2 francs for an unreserved seat.
In November 1871, following the considerable interruptions of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, the theatre was taken over by Leon Sari, who remodelled the auditorium, put in the famous promenade, and installed a 'garden' with a large central fountain.
A Folies-Bergère show typically included ballet, acrobatics, pantomime, operetta, animal acts, many including spectacular special effects. However, the Folies-Bergère was perhaps more well-known for its sensual allures, as described by Huysmans and Maupassant.
The women of the promenoir were required to demonstrate discretion; none were allowed in without fortnightly-renewable cards issued by the management. This arrangement lasted until 1918.
Artists and writers were drawn to the Folies-Bergère and establishments like it not least because they were fascinating venues for the practice of social anthropology, where different classes met in an environment in which strict bourgeois morality held no sway whatsoever. Manet's picture features his friends - artists and models; it is the kind of fashionable place in which he spent his evenings.
ref: Charles Castle, The Folies-Bergère, Methuen 1982
La Vie Parisienne
Joris-Karl Huysmans on the Folies-Bergère